Plates With Pizzazz: Asian Fusion Cuisine at Wave Bistro Pleases the Eye and the PalateJun 25, 2021 04:39PM ● By Niz Proskocil
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
A dozen stir-fried jumbo shrimp circle the border of a sleek white plate, all neatly arranged on a pool of spicy-sweet sauce. A small mound of steamed broccoli sits in the center of the plate, crowned by a flaky, golden puff-pastry lattice dome. The Szechwan Shrimp entree at Omaha’s Wave Bistro is one of several beautifully plated creations that are a delight to the eye.
Owners George and Connie Liao are the husband-and-wife team behind the bistro, where thoughtful food presentation, friendly service, and dishes prepared with care and attention have made the restaurant a popular dining option for more than 14 years. George is the executive chef, and Connie manages the dining room.
“The combination of excellent food and service at our restaurant is something I am proud of and find very special,” said George, who has worked in the restaurant business for more than 30 years.
Originally from Taiwan, the Liaos ran the former Tokyo Kitchen Japanese Grill in West Omaha for more than seven years and sold it before opening Wave Bistro at 144th Street and West Maple Road in March 2007. The couple wanted to shift their focus from an order-at-the-counter, fast-casual spot to a more upscale restaurant that offers higher-quality ingredients, attentive service, and culinary creativity.
George, 62, describes his restaurant’s style as Asian fusion. He likes to take Asian ingredients and flavors from cuisines such as Chinese, Thai, and Japanese and combine them with French and Italian cooking techniques, then add his own personal touches.
“This is the reason I opened Wave Bistro. I try to make different dishes, try to make it unique,” he said, adding that he’s more interested in “creating a new style of dishes” instead of food that is traditional or authentic.
A Thai-inspired dish he created for the menu at Wave is Garlic Basil Crusted Chicken with Seven Pepper Spiced Mango Sauce. He wanted to pair fragrant Thai basil with mango, two ingredients that complement each other nicely. The entree features a marinated chicken breast crusted with Thai basil, served with a spicy mango sauce that infuses the dish with a pop of bright flavor and color.
Other menu highlights include Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Sliced Beef in Spiced Hoisin Sauce, Green Curry Vegetables, and Lemon Creamy Almond Shrimp. Wave also offers more familiar Chinese menu items such as fried rice and orange chicken, George said, since not everyone may want to try the Asian fusion fare.
The restaurant’s name is inspired by his love of seafood. George worked for an aquaculture company in Taiwan before he and Connie moved to the U.S. in 1987. They lived in Lincoln, where they had relatives, and George graduated from the food service program at Southeast Community College. He later earned a master’s degree in hospitality management from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
He managed gourmet Asian restaurants in Las Vegas before he and Connie returned to Nebraska. It’s where they wanted to raise their son and daughter, and start a business. The Liaos opened Tokyo Kitchen, their first restaurant, in 1999. The couple have known each other since they were children and attended the same elementary school. Growing up, their families lived about a mile apart in a small town in Taiwan.
An American Culinary Federation-certified executive chef, George enjoys expanding his culinary skills and learning new techniques. His interest in baking led him to take pastry classes in Las Vegas and at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. At Wave, he especially likes making the desserts, which include a light and fluffy Japanese-style cheesecake, chocolate mousse torte, and crème brûlée.
He is also an avid cookbook collector and owns more than 500. In the mornings, he enjoys studying recipes and getting inspired. “During my free time, I am always experimenting with different tastes and ideas,” he said. “This is the way you can improve.”
Food presentation is important to him, so he strives to make dishes that look as good as they taste. Among the eye-catching entrees at Wave is the Cashew Crusted Salmon Fillet, a customer favorite. It features a stacked presentation that starts with a bottom layer of rice formed into a disc, followed by a tidy row of vibrant green asparagus, and topped with tender, flaky salmon with a golden-brown, crunchy cashew crust for added texture and flavor. A savory teriyaki reduction sauce is swooped in a circle around the plate.
When using edible garnishes such as fresh herbs, fruit, or sliced vegetables to decorate a dish, he said, it’s important that the garnishes complement the dish’s flavor and enhance its appearance. Dots and swirls of sauces, ingredients with varied shapes and sizes, and bright pops of color can add visual appeal to the plate.
“This is the first impression to the guests,” he said. “Making food look good is all part of the joy of cooking.”
The dining room at Wave also makes an impression. Featuring a mix of contemporary and traditional decor, the 74-person capacity space is comfortable and inviting. Glass water goblets and crisp white cloth napkins adorn the wooden tables, and a pair of giant wavy sculptures hang from the high ceilings. Soft, neutral colors and fresh flowers set the tone for a relaxing ambiance.
Providing a positive dining experience and interacting with guests is what Connie enjoys most about owning and operating a restaurant. Before coming to the U.S., she worked in an administrative job at a high school in Taiwan. She’s known for her people skills and warm, cheerful personality, her husband said, and has a knack for remembering names and faces of many guests over the years.
“A lot of customers have been like friends,” Connie said. “I like to talk to customers. George likes cooking.”
Being a chef and owner is hard work, but it’s also rewarding, George said. It allows him to be creative while taking on a variety of responsibilities in and out of the kitchen. “I like the fast-pace nature, creating new dishes, making decisions...and building a community of friends,” he said.
For some of the restaurant’s regulars, Wave has become a favorite spot to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. “People come here not only to enjoy the food but the service and the music,” George said.
Once a year, the Liaos take a break from the bistro and go on a weeklong vacation, usually overseas. France and Italy are among their favorite travel destinations, largely for the food.
Even on Sundays, his one day off, George is all about cooking and creating. He’ll head to the restaurant, where he has the kitchen all to himself, and spend hours baking cakes, bread, and French and Chinese pastries, or experimenting with new dishes. Not to put on the menu, he said, but simply for the joy of it.
Visit wavebistrorestaurant.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.